Switched on Pop hosts Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan join Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel to unravel how technology is changing the distribution, production and sound of popular music.
Here is an excerpt from composer Charlie Harding and musicologist Nate Sloan explaining why the songs are getting shorter in the era of streaming.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Nilay Patel: Obviously, broadcast services are everywhere. Algorithmic playlists are everywhere, the album as we know it is falling apart and the forces of the universe are taking hold. The songs are becoming dramatically shorter over time. When you ask, "What did technology do to music?", This is something very concrete to point out. The songs have decreased by more than 30 seconds in the last 18 years.
Charlie Harding: Yes. One of the main trends that we are seeing in the music and the economy of the transmission is that the songs have been shortened from the 90 until now. The average song has decreased over time, and we are seeing many more songs that are extremely short. Spotify came out in 2006, but only recently has music streaming become the dominant force in music distribution and now we have seen changes in the way people write songs.
One of the main things that has changed is how people charge, and it's affecting how songs are written. In the past, you used to charge if you sold an album or a single. In 1995, we had songs that reached four minutes and 30 seconds. Today, the songs have been reduced to three minutes and 42 seconds, due to the difference in how artists are paid now. Instead of being paid by physical sales, they pay you in a transmission, which only counts if someone listens to 30 seconds of a song. Actually, it makes sense if you can have more songs broadcast at the same time, which means you want to pack your album full of much shorter songs. So, if you have an album like Drake & # 39; s Scorpion which is a very long double album that arrives in almost 90 minutes, it has a lot of really short songs, because they pay you for every song you hear. a, listen to or not the whole album.
Not only are songs being shortened, but the way artists present their songs is also changing. The era of long introductions is over, which little by little get you into the song. Nowadays, we are not only seeing that the songs are getting shorter, but there is a kind of new structure of songs that we have observed that we have called the pop overture, where basically a song, at the beginning, will play a touch of the chorus in the first five to 10 seconds for the hook to be in your ear, waiting for you to stay until about 30 seconds when the full chorus arrives.
Nilay Patel: It's similar to the way the movie trailers now have mini trailers before the actual trailer.
Nate Sloan: Yes, exactly. This is analog audio of that.
Nilay Patel: You say that the songs are getting shorter because of the streaming services and the way the artist is paid once the listener reaches 30 seconds and then everything after 30 seconds is not worth the pain. And they just want to include you in the next song?
Nate Sloan: No, there's still an incentive to listen to the whole song and that might be part of the shortening. You do not want to risk losing someone's attention. It is possible that the reward is not monetary, but at least in Spotify if the listener listens to the whole track, this increases the chances of the track appearing in a larger playlist. In Spotify, do take into account that if someone listens to the whole track, you will be paid more, but if you put a song in a playlist it can cause even more clicks. So you want someone to listen to you through the whole.
Charlie Harding: What is really changing is the rapid increase of songs in less than three minutes. There is growth especially in hip hop. We are watching songs like "Gucci Gang" by Lil Pump, which appears after two minutes and four seconds. If you look at your record, 14 of the 19 songs last less than three minutes. Ten of them last less than two minutes.
But Nate's point is correct: you want someone to reach the end. You do not want someone to skip your song, so there is a healthy balance. I do not think we are entering an era in which the songs will last exactly 35 seconds, because there are all kinds of forms and conventions to work with. You need to catch someone and make sure they hear the whole thing and then go out and move on to the next song.